Tuesday, July 17, 2018

At the Growling Swallet

Part of the slippery descent to the entrance of the Growling Swallet

Don't you love that name and please note that I said ‘at’ and not ‘in.’ At 360m, the Growling Swallet  is the second deepest cave in Australia, but requires you to be an experienced member of a Caving Club to enter. Looking over the rules and membership requirements – abseiling skills, proficiency in rope work, a rescue course, a high level of fitness and ability to carry lots of gear, with scuba diving skills as an optional extra,  that’s unlikely to happen any time soon, though the importance of these skills was highlighted with the rescue of the Thai junior soccer team this week. 

Fortunately, if the idea of being underground appeals, there are at least three sites around Tasmania which are not only spectacular, but open to the public and where you can view such wonders in complete safety. These are listed at the bottom.

Meanwhile getting to the start of the track to the Growling Swallet is no mean feat.  Because it is in a Forestry Reserve you have to get the key from Parks and Wildlife at Mount Field. This must be booked in advance and requires a $300 deposit.  After travelling three Km past Maydena you turn right onto the Florentine Road  and travel another 16 Km. Though this is unsealed, it is wide and mostly good gravel with one or two potholes and slippery bits, so don’t take it too fast.

Velvet red fungi
After finding and turning off at the F8 East Road, which seems to take forever, things get a bit more difficult. ‘Road’ is a bit generous. It is a track that gets narrower and narrower with a deep boggy section and a high crown.  Although my van has a high clearance and truck tyres, the vegetation closed in on all sides and I had to keep checking to see if my ventilator had been ripped off. I also had to keep my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t meet anyone coming the other way as there is simply nowhere to turn or move off the track.  If the days were longer, I would have walked that section instead, but as it was it started getting dark before I left the forest.

One of the warning signs
There are warning signs signs at the start of the track. This is a Karst area with lots of sink holes, so it is not a good idea to stray. Parts are also prone to flooding and getting very slippery, so be especially careful if bringing children. 

A wonderland of ferns and mosses awaits those who dare to visit the Growling Swallet

That said, the track is a mostly pleasant ramble through rainforest vegetation, home to tree ferns, mosses and lichens. Parks and Wildlife says it takes 20 minutes, but it probably took me a bit longer.
There were not many fungi about, but there were some very striking red velvety ones (probably Hygrocybe erythrocrenata) and I caught my first glimpse of tiny blue -eyed Mycena interrupta.  The climax of the walk was the gully where the creek disappears into the giant rockface.  All that rushing and roaring is what gives Growling Swallet its name. You get the distinct feeling that if there’s a hell that’s what the entrance would look like, albeit a cold and wet one.  It is one of those breaks in the earth which truly inspires awe. However, not wishing to be swalletted by either the cave system or the encroaching darkness, I didn't linger long and didn’t really breathe easy until I was safely out of the woods and back on the main Forestry Road. Australia's deepest and most difficult caves are in this area and they have names like Niggly Cave, Tachycardia and Midnight Hole and no one is likely to come looking for you either, unless Parks and Wildlife run out of keys.

It's a place of rushing, roaring waters that give the Swallet its name

You can catch a bit of the sound here

Stargate? Mayan Temple? Gates of Doom? This is as far as normal mortals can go

Yes, it was impressive, but you can get almost as big a bang for your buck – i.e. slightly less spectacular rock formations, but a shorter drive and a less risky track, by going to Junee Cave - the road starts right in Maydena, where the same river emerges from the mountain 30 km later and after flowing through some 300 caves. 
For those keen to go underground, there are publicly accessible caves at Mole Creek in the North, at Hastings Caves in the South and at Gunn's Plains inland from Ulverstone. Tripadvisor also has more information and better pics.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Sweet sunshine

Sweet Treats, Richmond, perfect for a little indulgence

It’s not often that we have such a perfect winter’s day. Yes, I know I should be doing my tax return but as I am also temporarily stalled on my other project, I took myself off for a gentle drive to Richmond, that quaint, frozen -in -time village about 23 Km north east of Hobart.

With school holidays coming up, I was wondering if the Richmond Maze was still open but couldn’t get an answer on the phone.  Unfortunately, the maze was closed and had a big “For Sale” sign on it, but while looking for a parking spot, I found myself outside the Richmond sweet shop which, leaving aside the hazards of tooth decay and obesity for the time being, would indeed be of interest to children of any age - occasionally

Walls of temptation

The sweet shop fits in beautifully with the Georgian architecture. Here they all are, things you don’t see much anymore – the cobbers, the clinkers, the bananas, the raspberries, the false teeth and the musk sticks and somewhere past acres of bullseyes and licorice, there are Jaffas,  the freckles, toffees and fudges, and even the Esmerelda balls I used to have in the shop. Alas, not many of the latter found their way to the customers. I blame that on my (sweet) deprived childhood.  It’s like meeting old friends.

Sue tells me that this shop has been leading people astray for 34 years

 Luckily I’d already eaten some caramels on the way here, so for the most part I managed to resist temptation. The lollies might be the same, but the prices definitely aren’t what they used to be. Not that I can complain about paying $1.80 for three extra long sherbet straws for the girls.

There are two cabinets of icecream to drool over too

Not all the customers are older or here for a bit of nostalgia. There are dinosaur sweets, assorted sours and what seem to be transformers. There’s also a special on waffles with hot chocolate and there’s every kind of ice cream you can imagine. I expect that's it's standing room only here in summer, but today there are only a few people about and a coachload of schoolchildren who have been to the historic goal. I peer through small paned windows and poke around in some of the tiny shops.  The whole place reminds me of an English jigsaw puzzle we once had which depicted neat cottages behind perfectly trimmed hedges. Even the garbage bin is faintly artistic.

A tiny coffee nook
A peek inside other shops

Handmade jewellery sparkles in this one

Shop keepers take the time to talk

Venetian Glass sparkles in another

There are antique shops, galleries and craft outlets aplenty, not to mention all the other opportunities to eat, drink and generally ruin one's diet

Even Richmond's garbage bins seem to have a certain style

I leave before the sun gets too low. It will be dark soon and I am going to a children’s drama performance later this afternoon. I feel vaguely guilty as if I have wagged school, but I have enjoyed the little break. Every sunny winter’s day in Tasmania should be a public holiday, Vitamin D deprived as we are.

Look out Lollipops - next time I'll be bringing the tasting team!

I apologise for not having any heroic outdoor adventures to report. I am a fair weather walker and the days have been too cold and short. - More soon - enjoy your summer you Northerners!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Shock! Horror! It must be Dark Mofo!

This year it's about fire and crosses

It’s cold. It gets dark at 4.30 and it looks like rain but David Walsh, father of Mona has done it again, abruptly drawing us out of our comfort zone, both physically and mentally. Last year it was the public butchering of a bull which caused outrage, though no doubt it goes on out of sight in our abattoirs every day. This year it is the emphasis on crosses – the lurid red upside down ones in the city and the burning ones at Dark Park.  Mike Parr, the performance artist who last year occupied the Royal Derwent Mental Hospital, has this year had himself buried underground in Macquarie Street (one of Hobart’s main arteries) for three days. I am pleased to hear that he has a heater and a thermos as a Hobart winter is cold enough without spending it underground.

A blaze of torches greets us at the solar cross

We – that is my daughter and her temporarily extended family and I, braved the elements last night to explore Dark Park.  Fire in various forms warmed our hearts and souls from the giant bonfire to the leaping flames of the solar cross – symbol of the most ancient pagan religion, to the braziers found all around the venue. The good thing about coming out tonight was that the queues were not as long, though from all reports attendances have already exceeded all previous Dark Mofos. We walked the Solar Cross and then headed indoors for the puppet show and a look at this year’s Ogah Ogah. Arachnophobes beware. This year’s Ogah Ogah is a giant cave spider and the puppet show by the Terrapin theatre features a spider too. Real live cave spiders “grow as big as a dinner plate.”  I’d taken seven- year -old Bliss to see the puppet show, but after only a few minutes, she's ready to leave. “I’d rather go back to Mum” she said apprehensively. Dark Mofo is about confronting our fears.

The Ogah Ogah - this year a giant Cave Spider - greets us at the end of the shed. The idea is is to write down your fears and regrets and put them in the Ogah Ogah's egg sacs to be consumed by the flames when Dark Mofo ends

The bars were well attended – something to do with the weather I suspect, and many were enjoying the live music. A freezing rain began to fall as we reluctantly ventured outside again.  It didn’t help that we soon discovered several giant puddles as we stumbled about in the dark. Nevertheless, we eventually we found ourselves mesmerised by United Visual Artists’ “Musical Universalis” - glowing orbs moving rhythmically to a musical score and resulting in a kind of ballet of the planets. If you can't visit the venue, you really ought to click on the site to see this as my small camera didn't do much for it.

Even further away at the far northern end of the park, we arrived at Matthew Schreiber’s “Leviathan,” an enormous mazelike web spun out of laser beams, where we also spent some time. 
As we emerged we could just see the giant cross at the centre of the Sun Cross catching fire and illuminating the sky. This was another source of controversy as burning crosses have long been associated with the evil deeds of the Ku Klux Klan in the USA. However, as with the upside down crosses, their story is much more complex than this. Their use can be dated to at least a millennium earlier and they were also popular among the Scots to call together their clan members to defend themselves against others.

Losing ourselves in Matthew Schreiber's laser maze

As my daughter remarked,” I may not like every exhibit, but you have to admire David Walsh for bringing original and experimental work to Tasmania.” Speaking of confronting ideas, on our way out I notice the Submissive Hair Salon. Mistress Germaine and Master Bartholomew stop their busy schedule of gentle spanking or tying people’s hands to have a little chat. I just know people are going to go on about this too, but really, even the seven year old thought it was hilarious and definitely a very novel way to get your hair done. It comes with a beer, a G and T or a glass of wine too, but it is rather expensive. Hope conservative Hobart lightens up enough to appreciate it.

Fancy a bit of gentle S and M and maybe a a glass of wine with your hair cut? Mistress Germaine and Master Bartholomew are happy to offer all three at their Submissive Hair Salon

There are many more exhibits and shows (see the full program here)– some of them such as Tim Minchin’s, have been booked out months before, but the rain is coming down hard now and at least one of the little girls is getting tired.  As I drag my wet feet towards the exit, my only complaints are how far away the parking is – no shuttle buses this year, and how big the puddles are. I hope those two issues will be dealt with next year, especially as Dark Mofo gets bigger and bigger.

Some of the offerings at the Submissive Hair Salon

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Winter’s Day at Mt. Field

A Winter landscape - Mt. Field

It’s official. It’s winter now, but yesterday was our first fine day in a while. Or at least that’s what the weather bureau promised, so my long suffering walking buddy hauled me off to Mt. Field.  

It was still overcast and gloomy as we made our way up the narrow Lake Dobson Road, but suddenly we were above the mists and in the most beautiful alpine wonderland. Little pillows of snow lay on the moorlands and the mountains beyond carried a delicate dusting of snow. Curiously it’s not at all cold and there’s not a breath of wind.Yes, we may have missed the fagus this year with its glorious autumn display and we’d missed the summer wildflower show, but don’t think there’s nothing to do or see, just because it’s winter. 

Sunlight breaks through the fog, Lake Dobson Road, Mt. Field National Park

Once the showier plants have gone, you notice more subtle things such as the colourful trunks of the Snow Gums, the fresh greens of mountain pepper and conifers, the mosses and lichens and the great diversity of moorland species which cover the spaces between sparse eucalypts and rocks. It’s also the perfect time to see Russell Falls in full flow, though we don’t do that till later. The other good thing about winter, is that there's very little traffic on this road and the few people we do meet are smiling and friendly.

Moorlands and  mountain views - Mt. Mawson 1318m  in the background

There are a lot of interesting walks up here – to mountain tarns and rivers, over peaks and valleys and so on, but most of them are too long for us today because my friend has to leave early. We set a timer and walk the Lake Belcher Trail as long as we dare. The early part of this walk is duck -boarded to the end of the Moorland Mosaic, but with a bit of ice and snow on it, care is in order even here.  After that, we lumber about in snow and mud. It’s a bit disappointing that by the time the timer goes off, we haven’t arrived anywhere in particular, but it’s exhilarating just being out in the fresh air and sunshine.

The rich tapestry of moorland plants on the edge of the treeline

All that remains of the Fagus (Northofagus Cunninghami) but now you notice the other plants

Braving the elements - a tortured Snow Gum

I discover my first Mt.Mawson  pine (Pherosophaera hookeri) though I didn't know what it was until I got home and must admit I was expecting something a bit bigger. We throw a couple of half - hearted snowballs – not too hard, I didn’t want them shoved down my neck; make a couple of stops on the way down and do a quick lap of the new improved Russell Falls Circuit.

There are a few fungi about but the light is already fading

 If you walk up the track a bit now after you cross the little bridge, you can see the full extent of the falls whereas before you could only see two levels. It’s a short easy walk – 25 minutes return and the left side has been levelled and tarmacked to make it suitable for prams and wheelchairs. 
There are a few fungi about too, but it’s already too dark to take photos – perhaps the sun never reached here at all. It certainly feels like it.  It’s "put on the ski gloves" cold and I would kill for a cup of coffee.

Not the best shot but a quick glimpse of Russell Falls - one of the easiest falls to get to but tracks to several other falls start here as well

Not a pine cone but a fungus as big as a cabbage!
We have a pit stop in Westerway, just before the National Park where tiny cottages hug the Tyenna River. One of these is the Possum Shed, a gorgeous little place whose rear deck overlooks the water. On a good day you can see platypi from here, but I don’t linger outside that long. Great coffee, great day. The cakes were pretty good too. 

By the way, if you get the chance watch David Attenborough's "Tasmania." He captures much of the flavour as well as some excellent footage of our native animals.